I sat cross-legged on the tattered blanket, surrounded by a constellation of crumbs. Myra was sprawled out on her stomach next to me, her bright socks doing scissor kicks as she stared at the TV. Once in a while she’d “accidentally” kick me in the face. I retaliated by balancing popcorn kernels on her head — I’d gotten to five without her noticing.
“What are you doing?”
We looked up. Mom was standing over us, hands on her hips and one eyebrow raised. I paused the TV.
“It’s a picnic,” Myra said, patting the blanket. As she spoke, popcorn trickled off her head. “What the?” Her head whipped toward me and I grinned. She punched my arm, causing me to flail and knock over the bowl of popcorn.
“You’re making a mess!” Mom barked. A strange look spread across her face, as if an unpleasant thought was taking root — one that she didn’t want to acknowledge. “I’ve got work to do. Why don’t you play outside?”
“That’s not a thing anymore,” Myra said, rolling her eyes.
“Well, cleaning the house is a thing,” Mom retorted. “So take your pick.”
It was a breezy summer afternoon and our neighborhood was deserted. I sighed and kicked a rock at the large oak in our yard, it sailed past and clunked on the sidewalk.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Myra suggested.
We lived at the end of Wintercrest, across from a crumbling red brick wall that haphazardly protected our little slice of suburbia. Our street had this unstated agreement to let the plant-life go wild. Huge, untamed elms dwarfed old one-story houses and converged above the street, making a tunnel of perpetual twilight. The occasional crape myrtle puffed out in a violent burst of color. The overall effect was unsettling.
The last house was Mr. Flagg’s — an unkempt two-story surrounded by ghostly willows. We sped past and rounded the corner to the next street, Fairfield. I’d always wished we lived over here, where it felt more cheerful. Sunbeams trickled through the trees and happy gnomes watched over neat little gardens. At the end of the block we turned. But instead of starting down the next street, we found ourselves back on our own. We looked at each other.
“Did I just zone out for two streets?” I asked.
“I don’t thi-nk so,” Myra said slowly.
We retraced our steps, past Mr. Flagg’s, past our house, to the other end of Wintercrest. We turned. Fairfield.
“Okay this is weird,” Myra said, unhelpfully.
We tried again, picking up the pace. Again we reached our block after only two turns.
“What the hell?” I said. “Stay here.”
I left Myra in front of our house and ran down both streets, looking for different places to turn. Nothing. Five more times I tried, each time I found myself stuck in the same loop. Meanwhile, Myra stood in front of our house, arms crossed as she watched me pass by. Sweat poured down my face and I was breathing heavily. I needed to get in better shape.
“You’re getting nowhere,” she said on my sixth pass. She spun around and marched toward our house, along the cracked stone path and up the steps. She opened the door and screamed. We were looking out some other front door, at someone’s else lawn on Fairfield. But we were still standing on our doorstep.
“Okay, try the other houses,” I said frantically. Myra turned east and ran to the next house, while I went west. I knocked on every door; no one answered. Then I ran across the street and climbed the brick wall across from our house, expecting to end up outside the neighborhood, but I dropped down on Fairfield instead. Our entire world now consisted of just two streets.
I returned to Wintercrest, where Myra stood on the sidewalk in front of Mr. Flagg’s. It was the only place we hadn’t tried, and I had a feeling it was exactly where we needed to be. The door was slightly ajar and a light gust of wind played with it, inviting us in.
Weeds crept across the lawn like spiders, and paint peeled off the porch to reveal rotten wood beneath. Pitch-black windows spotted the front facade like black holes. My instincts told me to run, but we were out of options. I moved forward with tiny, cowardly steps.
“What are you doing?” Myra whispered.
“We have to,” I said. Dead leaves crunched under my feet until I reached the front door, where darkness oozed out the narrow crack.
“Hello?” I called, pushing it open with a tortuous creak. “Mr. Flagg?”
A strange tapping echoed from deep inside. I backed away, heart pounding.
Myra grabbed my hand and shook her head, terrified, begging me to turn back. She looked… slightly dull, like she was fading away. Not good. I needed to end this, now.
I threw open the door — its old hinges screamed in protest. A long, dark hallway spread out in front of me, leading to a faint trace of light peeking underneath another door. The tapping grew louder, beckoning me forward.
Goosebumps spread across my arms as I stepped inside. Darkness consumed me. The tapping became a steady pounding. I reached the end of the hall too quickly and hesitated before pushing open the next door. As I did, a brilliant white light blinded me — so bright it made my ears ring. It grew, engulfing me, the hallway, the entire world…
I sat up on the old blanket, crumbs falling off my arms.
“Are you sleeping in the middle of the day?” Mom asked, standing over me.
“You should go outside, get some exercise.”
I looked around frantically. “Where’s Myra?” I asked.
“Myra!” I said, disoriented.
“Myra, are you feeling okay?” Mom looked at me with concern.
I jumped up and ran into the hall bathroom. Placing my hand on the mirror, I stared in shock. Myra was staring back at me.
Marykate Earnest writes in Austin, Texas.